Hank Williams changed country music forever

There are many packed moments Hank WilliamsA very short career when the singer and songwriter would change country music forever. But the first, the one that divides the genre (and American music history) into its pre- and post-Hank eras, took place on April 21, 1947, when Williams recorded “Move It On Over,” his debut single for MGM.

The addictive song, which seamlessly blended a velvety Western swing with the deep Southern blues that formed Williams’ musical backbone, would become Williams’ first hit shortly after its release in June of that year. In addition to bringing Williams his first taste of success, the song also predicted and influenced what would become rock and roll by instantly transforming the “folk” sound of the era.

Listen to “Move It On Over” by Hank Williams 40 greatest hits.

“Move It On Over” has the contours of a new song – after all, it’s about asking the dog to make room after being sent to the proverbial doghouse. However, apocryphally, his inspiration was quite straightforward: Williams’ wife and manager, Audrey, was locking him out of the house after a very late night. Also apocryphal is the oft-told tale that this was the song that did Fred Rosesinger-songwriter and co-founder of Acuff-Rose Publishing, promoted Williams from his publishing contract to a full-fledged record deal.


Less mythical are the song’s musical origins, which stretch back to the dawn of the recorded blues. The specific melody Williams uses over a classic 12-bar blues form has its roots in “one of the first hits in black recorded music,” as critic and historian David Hajdu describes it in his book. Love For Sale. That hit was “Jim Jackson’s Kansas City Blues,” recorded by Jim Jackson in 1927. It would be transformed by the blues pioneer Charlie Patton on “Going To Move To Alabama” in 1929 and then ten years later by the conductor and composer Count Basie on “Your Red Wagon” before Williams found success with his rendition—which drew just a hint of Basie’s cosmopolitan flair to polish his decidedly relatable lyrics and Williams’ bluesy inflection.

The laid-back sound came courtesy of Red Foley’s backing band, who were brought to Williams’ first session for the label after his band proved a little more ready for a road house than the Nashville recording studios of the era. The resulting single, still great decades later, is flawless in almost every way, from its beat—somewhat slithering and sultry at the same time—to its big-band-inspired call-and-response, to the solo his jazzy guitar and filigree of pedal steel, to – of course – Williams’ easy swing with a barely perceptible bluesy yodel strain.


“Move It On Over” was an almost instant hit, reportedly selling over 100,000 copies within a few months. It only reached number four on the Billboard country chart (then called “The Jukebox’s Most Played Popular Records”), but its success was enough to bring Williams his first press release. even his first essential payments: he quickly put down a down payment on a house, bought himself a car and his wife her first fur coat. It was the first song he played when he joined the Louisiana Hayride in 1948, and it remained his signature hit until he recorded “Blues in love” in 1949.

The song has been recorded many times (especially decades later by George Thorogood and the Destroyers) but her true legacy is perhaps in 1955’s “Rock Around The Clock”—the first mainstream rock song, in which Bill Haley and his comets reworked the same punchy blues tune that Williams used to such great effect here.

Listen to “Move It On Over” by Hank Williams 40 greatest hits.

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